The window of my bedroom faces a huge wooden house. Someone told me it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It must’ve gone through both WW1 and WW2. What happened to the people living in the house during the wars? Who were they? Did they have a good life? Any tragedies happened to these families? I had many questions.
As I had no courage to bother the owners, a lovely elderly couple, with my questions, I created various scenarios for entertain myself.
At one point, a wealthy family live here with their three children, who are taught at home. The image of the family sitting around at the dining table and enjoying their evening meal would occurr in my mind. A light laugh could be heard occasionally. Most likely from the father. The children are well mannered and the tone between them is gentle and pleasant. The lighting from the chandelier makes the living room look bright and glorious. I could sense the warm atmosphere and hear the giggles.
How long did it last, until the war broke out?
The old house reminds me of the novel titled “If the walls could talk” by Yi Shu, a Hong Kong writer, also named Isabel Nee Yeh-Su. The walls must have overheard the whispers and witnessed both the good and the hard time those families had been through. Were they related? Generations? The walls know the stories, if only they could tell.
The curtain is always pulled aside. In the evening, I could see the light glowing softly. The image of a woman is sometimes visible from the window. She might be sitting in an armchair covered with floral print fabric, and sewing a dress. The colour has faded already.
The little room must belong to the past with the original decoration preserved. A few black-white photos would suit the dark-green wallpaper well. It would be her retreat. Oh retreat, it makes me think of the attic room, which is Clarissa Dalloway’s retreat. Strangely, amongst all the scenes taken place in Virginia Woolf’s masterpiece Mrs Dalloway, it’s the moment when Clarissa Dalloway makes her way to the attic room that brings my mind back to the past, a hot day in London in June 1923.
“Like a nun withdrawing, or a child exploring a tower, she went, upstairs, paused at the window, came to the bathroom. There was the green linoleum and a tap dripping. There was an emptiness about the heart of life; an attic room.” (Virginia Woolf 1925)
The little room in the old house, however, is a different sort of retreat. It’s her escape from the world she doesn’t always fit in. She’s too kindhearted, her heart too soft so it gets hurt easily. In this quiet room she feels at ease, no worries, no concerns. Snuggling up in a corner of the armchair, she’s lost in her books. A green vintage dress on the side table is waiting to be mended. No hurry. Sometimes she lifts her head, feeling puzzled. It’s dark outside the window. Her eyes rest on the trees, and then on the soft snow.
At that moment, our eyes meet, the two souls wandering at midnight. Faint and distant. We can’t see it properly. We can only feel it.
(The pictures were taken in Oslo, Fredrikstad (Norway) and Stockholm in 2017/2018)